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Credit Reports: Your Digital Defense

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Check your credit report for fraud protection

by Jean Chatzky

I feel like much of what I’ve done these last few months has been warning people about scams. They reared their heads at the holidays, at tax time. Yesterday, I got a call on my home phone that Caller ID flagged as spam which is often a precursor to scams. But a heads up you don’t often get is one from the FBI itself. Last week, the FBI’s field office in Portland, Oregon issued a brief advising that checking your credit report can help protect you against identity theft. And if the FBI advises you to check your credit, you probably should. Here’s why.

You can’t stop breaches

When Equifax got hacked last year, there was nothing you as an individual could do about it. And when breaches happen in the future, there will likely be nothing individuals can do about them either. What you can do is check your credit history says Beth Ann Steele, Spokesperson for FBI Portland. You are likely eligible to check your credit report (and your score) for free via your credit union or bank. If you’re not, you’re eligible to receive three, free credit reports each year — one from each of the three main credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax — via annualcreditreport.com. A good rule of thumb is to spread those three reports out so you’re checking one every four months. You can check your credit score even more regularly. Because scores are calculated based on the information in your credit report, if something seems awry with your score, it’s a good idea to pull an additional credit report.

Why it’s important to check

Checking to make sure your report is correct is the first step in catching fraud — and can save you from a massive financial headache. “[One key] thing you want to remember when checking your credit report is checking for new accounts that are opened up using you personal information,” says Paul Stephens, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. If a fraudster gets ahold of your personal information, they could take out loans, open new lines of credit and even open a cell phone account under your name.

Another reason to keep an eye on your credit report: Credit agencies sell your report’s information to creditors, employers, insurance companies and other businesses. If your information is inaccurate or there’s been fraudulent activity under your name and it has gone undetected, that could cost you a job, a loan for a house or car, or a higher price tag on auto or homeowners insurance.

Finally, if you really want to protect yourself, place a credit freeze on your reports advises Stephens. A new federal rule was just signed into law on May 24th stating that consumers in all states will be able to place and remove security freezes for free beginning in the fall.

With Hattie Burgher